Plot (narrative)

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Plot is the cause-and-effect sequence of main events in a story. The story events are numbered chronologically; the red plot events are also connected logically by "so". Story v. plot.png
Plot is the cause‐and‐effect sequence of main events in a story. The story events are numbered chronologically; the red plot events are also connected logically by "so".

In a literary work, film, or other narrative, the plot is the sequence of events in which each event affects the next one through the principle of cause-and-effect. The causal events of a plot can be thought of as a series of events linked by the connector "and so". Plots can vary from the simple—such as in a traditional ballad—to forming complex interwoven structures, with each part sometimes referred to as a subplot or imbroglio.

Contents

Plot is similar in meaning to the term storyline. [2] [3] In the narrative sense, the term highlights important points which have consequences within the story, according to American science fiction writer Ansen Dibell. [1] The term plot can also serve as a verb, referring to either the writer's crafting of a plot (devising and ordering story events), or else to a character's planning of future actions in the story.

The term plot, however, in common usage (for example, a "movie plot") can mean a narrative summary or story synopsis, rather than a specific cause-and-effect sequence. It can even refer to the whole narrative broadly.

Definition

Early 20th-century English novelist E. M. Forster described plot as the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story. According to Forster, "The king died, and then the queen died, is a story, while The king died, and then the queen died of grief, is a plot." [4] [5] [6]

Teri Shaffer Yamada, Ph.D., of CSULB, agrees that a plot does not include memorable scenes within a story that do not relate directly to other events but only "major events that move the action in a narrative." [7] For example, in the 1997 film Titanic , when Rose climbs on the railing at the front of the ship and spreads her hands as if she's flying, this scene is memorable but does not directly influence other events, so it may not be considered as part of the plot. Another example of a memorable scene that is not part of the plot occurs in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back , when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. [1]

Fabula and syuzhet

The literary theory of Russian Formalism in the early 20th century divided a narrative into two elements: the fabula (фа́була) and the syuzhet (сюже́т). A fabula is the chronology of the fictional world, whereas a syuzhet is a perspective or plot thread of those events. Formalist followers eventually translated the fabula/syuzhet to the concept of story/plot. This definition is usually used in narratology, in parallel with Forster's definition. The fabula (story) is what happened in chronological order. In contrast, the syuzhet (plot) means a unique sequence of discourse that was sorted out by the (implied) author. That is, the syuzhet can consist of picking up the fabula events in non-chronological order; for example, fabula is a1, a2, a3, a4, a5, ..., an, syuzhet is a5, a1, a3.

The Russian formalist, Viktor Shklovsky, viewed the syuzhet as the fabula defamiliarized. Defamiliarization or "making strange," a term Shklovsky coined and popularized, upends familiar ways of presenting a story, slows down the reader's perception, and makes the story appear unfamiliar. [8] Shklovsky cites Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy as an example of a fabula that has been defamiliarized. [9] Sterne uses temporal displacements, digressions, and causal disruptions (for example, placing the effects before their causes) to slow down the reader's ability to reassemble the (familiar) story. As a result, the syuzhet "makes strange" the fabula.

Examples

Cinderella

Cinderella Cinderella 1865 (6).png
Cinderella

A story orders events from beginning to end in a time sequence. [1]

Consider the following events in the European folk tale "Cinderella":

  1. The prince searches for Cinderella with the glass shoe
  2. Cinderella's sisters try the shoe on themselves but it does not fit them
  3. The shoe fits Cinderella's foot so the prince finds her

The first event is causally related to the third event, while the second event, though descriptive, does not directly impact the outcome. As a result, according to Ansen Dibell, the plot can be described as the first event "and so" the last event, while the story can be described by all three events in order.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz WizardOfOz2.jpg
The Wizard of Oz

Fiction-writing coach Steve Alcorn says that the main plot elements of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz are easy to find, and include: [10]

  1. A tornado picks up a house and drops it on a witch
  2. A little girl meets some interesting traveling companions
  3. A wizard sends them on a mission
  4. They melt a witch with a bucket of water

Concepts

Structure and treatment

Dramatic structure is the philosophy by which the story is split and how the story is thought of. This can vary by ethnicity, region and time period. This can be applied to books, plays, and films. Philosophers/critics who have discussed story structure include Aristotle, Horace, Aelius Donatus, Gustav Freytag, Kenneth Thorpe Rowe, Lajos Egri, Syd Field, and others. Some story structures are so old that the originator cannot be found, such as Ta'zieh.

Often in order to sell a script, the plot structure is made into what is called a treatment. This can vary based on locality, but for Europe and European Diaspora, the three-act structure is often used. The components of this structure are the set-up, the confrontation and the resolution. Acts are connected by two plot points or turning points, with the first turning point connecting Act I to Act II, and the second connecting Act II to Act III. The conception of the three-act structure has been attributed to American screenwriter Syd Field who described plot structure in this tripartite way for film analysis.

Furthermore, in order to sell a book within the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, often the plot structure is split into a synopsis. Again the plot structure may vary by genre or drama structure used.

Aristotle

Many scholars have analyzed dramatic structure, beginning with Aristotle in his Poetics (c. 335 BC).

In his Poetics, a theory about tragedies, the Greek philosopher Aristotle put forth the idea the play should imitate a single whole action. "A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end" (1450b27). [11] He split the play into two acts: complication and denouement. [12] He mainly used Sophocles to make his argument about the proper dramatic structure of a play.

Two types of scenes are of special interest: the reversal, which throws the action in a new direction, and the recognition, meaning the protagonist has an important revelation. [13] Reversals should happen as a necessary and probable cause of what happened before, which implies that turning points need to be properly set up. [13] He ranked the order of importance of the play to be: Chorus, Events, Diction, Character, Spectacle. [12] And that all plays should be able to be performed from memory, long and easy to understand. [14] He was against character-centric plots stating “The Unity of a Plot does not consist, as some suppose, in its having one man as its subject.” [15] He was against episodic plots. [16] He held that discovery should be the high point of the play and that the action should teach a moral that is reenforced by pity, fear and suffering. [17] The spectacle, not the characters themselves would give rise to the emotions. [18] The stage should also be split into “Prologue, Episode, Exode, and a choral portion, distinguished into Parode and Stasimon...“ [19]

Unlike later, he held that the morality was the center of the play and what made it great. Unlike popular belief, he did not come up with the three act structure popularly known.

Gustav Freytag

Freytag's pyramid Freytag's Pyramid with English text.svg
Freytag's pyramid

The German playwright and novelist Gustav Freytag wrote Die Technik des Dramas, [21] a definitive study of the five-act dramatic structure, in which he laid out what has come to be known as Freytag's pyramid. [22] Under Freytag's pyramid, the plot of a story consists of five parts: [23] [20]

  1. Exposition (originally called introduction)
  2. Rising action (rise)
  3. Climax
  4. Falling action (return or fall)
  5. Catastrophe, denouement, resolution, or revelation [24] or "rising and sinking". Freytag is indifferent as to which of the contending parties justice favors; in both groups, good and evil, power and weakness, are mingled. [25]

A drama is then divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and catastrophe. Freytag extends the five parts with three moments or crises: the exciting force, the tragic force, and the force of the final suspense. The exciting force leads to the rising action, the tragic force leads to the falling action, and the force of the final suspense leads to the catastrophe. Freytag considers the exciting force to be necessary but the tragic force and the force of the final suspense are optional. Together, they make the eight component parts of the drama. [20]

In making his argument, he attempts to retcon much of the Greeks and Shakespeare by making opinions of what they meant, but didn't actually say. [26]

He argued for tension created through contrasting emotions, but didn't actively argue for conflict. [27] He argued that character comes first in plays. [28] He also set up the groundwork for what would later be called the inciting incident. [29]

Overall, Freytag argued the center of a play is emotionality and the best way to get that emotionality is to put contrasting emotions back to back. He laid some of the foundations for centering the hero, unlike Aristotle. He is popularly attributed to have stated conflict at the center of his plays, but he argues actively against continuing conflict. [30]

Freytag defines the parts as:

Introduction
The setting is fixed in a particular place and time, the mood is set, and characters are introduced. A backstory may be alluded to. Exposition can be conveyed through dialogues, flashbacks, characters' asides, background details, in-universe media, or the narrator telling a back-story. [31]
Rise
An exciting force begins immediately after the exposition (introduction), building the rising action in one or several stages toward the point of greatest interest. These events are generally the most important parts of the story since the entire plot depends on them to set up the climax and ultimately the satisfactory resolution of the story itself. [32]
Climax
The climax is the turning point, which changes the protagonist's fate. If things were going well for the protagonist, the plot will turn against them, often revealing the protagonist's hidden weaknesses. [33] If the story is a comedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from bad to good for the protagonist, often requiring the protagonist to draw on hidden inner strengths. A plot with an exciting climax is said to be climactic. A disappointing scene is instead called anticlimactic. [34]
Return or Fall
During the Return, the hostility of the counter-party beats upon the soul of the hero. Freytag lays out two rules for this stage: the number of characters be limited as much as possible, and the number of scenes through which the hero falls should be fewer than in the rising movement. The falling action may contain a moment of final suspense: Although the catastrophe must be foreshadowed so as not to appear as a non sequitur, there could be for the doomed hero a prospect of relief, where the final outcome is in doubt. [35]
Catastrophe
The catastrophe (Katastrophe in the original) [36] is where the hero meets his logical destruction. Freytag warns the writer not to spare the life of the hero. [37] More generally, the final result of a work's main plot has been known in English since 1705 as the denouement ( UK: /dˈnmɒ̃,dɪ-/ , US: /ˌdnˈmɒ̃/ ; [38] ). It comprises events from the end of the falling action to the actual ending scene of the drama or narrative. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader. Etymologically, the French word dénouement (French: [denumɑ̃] ) is derived from the word dénouer, "to untie", from nodus, Latin for "knot." It is the unraveling or untying of the complexities of a plot. [39]

Plot devices

A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story. It is often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with dramatic technique; that is, by making things happen because characters take action for well-developed reasons. An example of a plot device would be when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day in a battle. In contrast, an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself and saves the day due to a change of heart would be considered dramatic technique.

Familiar types of plot devices include the deus ex machina , the MacGuffin, the red herring, and Chekhov's gun.

Plot outline

A plot outline is a prose telling of a story which can be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes it is called a "one page" because of its length. In comics, the roughs refer to a stage in the development where the story has been broken down very loosely in a style similar to storyboarding in film development. This stage is also referred to as storyboarding or layouts. In Japanese manga, this stage is called the nēmu (ネーム, pronounced like the English word "name"). The roughs are quick sketches arranged within a suggested page layout. The main goals of roughs are to:

In fiction writing, a plot outline gives a list of scenes. Scenes include events, character(s) and setting. Plot, therefore, shows the cause and effect of these things put together. The plot outline is a rough sketch of this cause and effect made by the scenes to lay out a "solid backbone and structure" to show why and how things happened as they did.

Plot summary

A plot summary is a brief description of a piece of literature that explains what happens. In a plot summary, the author and title of the book should be referred to and it is usually no more than a paragraph long while summarizing the main points of the story. [40] [41]

A-Plot

An A-Plot is a cinema and television term referring to the plotline that drives the story. This does not necessarily mean it is the most important, but rather the one that forces most of the action.

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 4 Ansen Dibell, Ph.D. (1999-07-15). Plot. Elements of Fiction Writing. Writer's Digest Books. pp. 5 f. ISBN   978-0-89879-946-0. Plot is built of significant events in a given story – significant because they have important consequences. Taking a shower isn't necessarily plot... Let's call them incidents ... Plot is the things characters do, feel, think or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.
  2. "Definition of plot". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2023-01-25.
  3. "Definition of storyline". Oxford Dictionaries. 2014-08-09. Archived from the original on 2014-08-09. Retrieved 2023-01-25.
  4. Prince, Gerald (2003-12-01). A Dictionary of Narratology (Revised ed.). University of Nebraska Press. p. 73. ISBN   978-0-8032-8776-1.
  5. Wales, Katie (2011-05-19). A Dictionary of Stylistics. Longman Linguistics (3 ed.). Routledge. p. 320. ISBN   978-1-4082-3115-9.
  6. Forster, E.M. Aspects of the Novel. Mariner Books. (1956) ISBN   978-0156091800
  7. Teri Shaffer Yamada, Ph.D. "ELEMENTS OF FICTION". California State University, Long Beach. Archived from the original on 2014-12-20. Retrieved 2014-12-20.
  8. Victor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique," in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, 2nd ed., trans. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 3-24.
  9. Shklovsky, "Sterne's Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary" in Russian Formalist Criticism, 25-57.
  10. Steve Alcorn. "Know the Difference Between Plot and Story". Tejix. Archived from the original on 2014-08-23. Retrieved 2014-08-24.
  11. Aristotle (1932) [c. 335 BCE]. "Aristotle, Poetics, section 1450b". Aristotle in 23 Volumes. Vol. 23. Translated by W.H. Fyfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Archived from the original on 22 April 2008. Retrieved 2023-01-25 via www.perseus.tufts.edu.
  12. 1 2 Aristotle. "18 (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry)". The Poetics. Translated by Ingram Bywater. Archived from the original on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 2023-01-25 via www.authorama.com.
  13. 1 2 Aristotle (2008) [c. 335 BCE]. "XI". Aristotle's Poetics. Translated by S. H. Butcher. Archived from the original on 30 October 2021. Retrieved 30 October 2021 via Project Gutenberg.
  14. Aristotle. "7 (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry)". The Poetics. Translated by Ingram Bywater. Archived from the original on 16 April 2021. Retrieved 2023-01-25 via www.authorama.com.
  15. Aristotle. "8 (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry)". The Poetics. Translated by Ingram Bywater. Archived from the original on 27 January 2021. Retrieved 2023-01-25 via www.authorama.com.
  16. Aristotle. "10 (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry)". The Poetics. Translated by Ingram Bywater. Archived from the original on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 2023-01-25 via www.authorama.com.
  17. Aristotle. "11 (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry)". The Poetics. Translated by Ingram Bywater. Archived from the original on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 2023-01-25 via www.authorama.com.
  18. Aristotle. "14". The Poetics. Translated by Ingram Bywater. Archived from the original on 18 May 2021.
  19. Aristotle. "12 (Aristotle on the Art of Poetry)". The Poetics. Translated by Ingram Bywater. Archived from the original on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  20. 1 2 3 Freytag (1900 , p. 115)
  21. Freytag, Gustav (1900). Technique of the Drama: an Exposition of Dramatic Composition and Art. Translated by Elias J. MacEwan (Third ed.). Chicago: Scott, Foresman.
  22. University of South Carolina (2006). The Big Picture Archived October 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  23. University of Illinois: Department of English (2006). Freytag's Triangle Archived July 16, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  24. Freytag, Gustav (1863). Die Technik des Dramas (in German). Archived from the original on 2009-01-16. Retrieved 2009-01-20.
  25. Freytag (1900 , pp. 104–105)
  26. Freytag. p. 25, 41, 75, 98, 188–189
  27. Freytag. p. 80–81
  28. Freytag. p. 90
  29. Freytag. p. 94–95
  30. Freytag p. 29
  31. Freytag (1900 , pp. 115–121)
  32. Freytag (1900 , pp. 125–128)
  33. Freytag (1900 , pp. 128–130)
  34. "Climactic: Definition, Meaning, & Synonyms". June 23, 2018.
  35. Freytag (1900 , pp. 133–135)
  36. Freytag. p 137
  37. Freytag (1900 , pp. 137–140)
  38. "dénouement". Cambridge Dictionary .
  39. Merriam-Webster. (n.d.) Denoument. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved May 29, 2023 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denouement
  40. Stephen V. Duncan (2006). A Guide to Screenwriting Success: Writing for Film and Television. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 33–. ISBN   978-0-7425-5301-9.
  41. Steven Espinoza; Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay; Chris Vander Kaay (20 August 2019). We All Know How This Ends: The Big Book of Movie Plots. Laurence King Publishing. ISBN   978-1-78627-527-1.

Related Research Articles

Defamiliarization or ostranenie is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way so they could gain new perspectives and see the world differently. According to the Russian formalists who coined the term, it is the central concept of art and poetry. The concept has influenced 20th-century art and theory, ranging over movements including Dada, postmodernism, epic theatre, science fiction, and philosophy; additionally, it is used as a tactic by recent movements such as culture jamming.

Dramaturgy is the study of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage.

Diegesis is a style of fiction storytelling which presents an interior view of a world in which the narrator presents the actions of the characters to the readers or audience.

Aristotle's Poetics is the earliest surviving work of Greek dramatic theory and the first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory. In this text Aristotle offers an account of ποιητική, which refers to poetry and more literally "the poetic art," deriving from the term for "poet; author; maker," ποιητής. Aristotle divides the art of poetry into verse drama, lyric poetry, and epic. The genres all share the function of mimesis, or imitation of life, but differ in three ways that Aristotle describes:

  1. Differences in music rhythm, harmony, meter, and melody.
  2. Difference of goodness in the characters.
  3. Difference in how the narrative is presented: telling a story or acting it out.

Russian formalism was a school of thought literary theory in Russia from the 1910s to the 1930s. It includes the work of a number of highly influential Russian and Soviet scholars such as Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Boris Tomashevsky, Grigory Gukovsky who revolutionised literary criticism between 1914 and the 1930s by establishing the specificity and autonomy of poetic language and literature. Russian formalism exerted a major influence on thinkers like Mikhail Bakhtin and Juri Lotman, and on structuralism as a whole. The movement's members had a relevant influence on modern literary criticism, as it developed in the structuralist and post-structuralist periods. Under Stalin it became a pejorative term for elitist art.

Story structure or narrative structure is the recognizable or comprehensible way in which a narrative's different elements are unified, including in a particularly chosen order and often specifically referring to the ordering of the plot: the narrative series of events. In a play or work of theatre especially, this can be called dramatic structure, which is presented in audiovisual form. The following overviews how story structure works in a cross-cultural and general sense.

Narratology is the study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways that these affect human perception. It is an anglicisation of French narratologie, coined by Tzvetan Todorov. Its theoretical lineage is traceable to Aristotle (Poetics) but modern narratology is agreed to have begun with the Russian formalists, particularly Vladimir Propp, and Mikhail Bakhtin's theories of heteroglossia, dialogism, and the chronotope first presented in The Dialogic Imagination (1975).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Distancing effect</span> Theatrical technique

The distancing effect, also translated as alienation effect, is a concept in performing arts credited to German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

An act is a major division of a theatre work, including a play, film, opera, ballet, or musical theatre, consisting of one or more scenes. The term can either refer to a conscious division placed within a work by a playwright or a unit of analysis for dividing a dramatic work into sequences. The word act can also be used for major sections of other entertainment, such as variety shows, television programs, music hall performances, cabaret, and literature.

<i>Hamartia</i> Protagonists error in Greek dramatic theory

The term hamartia derives from the Greek ἁμαρτία, from ἁμαρτάνειν hamartánein, which means "to miss the mark" or "to err". It is most often associated with Greek tragedy, although it is also used in Christian theology. The term is often said to depict the flaws or defects of a character and portraying these as the reason of a potential downfall. However, other critics point to the term's derivation and say that it refers only to a tragic but random accident or mistake, with devastating consequences but with no judgment implied as to the character.

Formalism is a school of literary criticism and literary theory having mainly to do with structural purposes of a particular text. It is the study of a text without taking into account any outside influence. Formalism rejects or sometimes simply "brackets" notions of culture or societal influence, authorship, and content, and instead focuses on modes, genres, discourse, and forms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Narrative criticism</span>

Narrative criticism focuses on the stories a speaker or a writer tells to understand how they help us make meaning out of our daily human experiences. Narrative theory is a means by which we can comprehend how we impose order on our experiences and actions by giving them a narrative form. According to Walter Fisher, narratives are fundamental to communication and provide structure for human experience and influence people to share common explanations and understandings. Fisher defines narratives as "symbolic actions-words and/or deeds that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, or interpret them." Study of narrative criticism, therefore, includes form, genre, structure characterization, and communicator's perspective.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dramatic theory</span>

Dramatic theory attempts to form theories about theatre and drama. Drama is defined as a form of art in which a written play is used as basis for a performance. Dramatic theory is studied as part of theatre studies.

A fiction-writing mode is a manner of writing imaginary stories with its own set of conventions regarding how, when, and where it should be used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fabula and syuzhet</span>

In narratology, fabula equates to the thematic content of a narrative and syuzhet equates to the chronological structure of the events within the narrative. Vladimir Propp and Viktor Shklovsky originated the terminology as part of the Russian Formalism movement in the early 20th century. Narratologists have described fabula as "the raw material of a story", and syuzhet as "the way a story is organized".

Mythos [from Ancient Greek μῦθος mûthos] is the term used by Aristotle in his Poetics to mean an Athenian tragedy's plot as a "representation of an action" or "the arrangement of the incidents" that "represents the action". Aristotle distinguishes plot from praxis – which are the actions the plots represent. It is the first of the six elements of tragedy that Aristotle lists.

The three-act structure is a model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. It was popularized by Syd Field in his 1979 book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Based on his recommendation that a play have a "beginning, middle, and end," the structure has been falsely attributed to Aristotle, who in fact argued for a two-act structure consisting of a "complication" and "dénouement" split by a peripeteia.

In literary theory, literariness is the organisation of language which through special linguistic and formal properties distinguishes literary texts from non-literary texts. The defining features of a literary work do not reside in extraliterary conditions such as history or sociocultural phenomena under which a literary text might have been created, but in the form of the language that is used. Thus, literariness is defined as being the feature that makes a given work a literary work. It distinguishes a literary work from ordinary texts by using certain artistic devices such as metre, rhyme, and other patterns of sound and repetition.

The metabasis paradox is an instance in the received text of Aristotle's Poetics where, according to many scholars, he makes two incompatible statements. In chapter 13 of the book, Aristotle states that for tragedy to end in misfortune is "correct," yet in chapter 14 he judges a kind of tragedy "best" that does not end in misfortune. Since the 16th century, scholars in Classics have puzzled over this contradiction or have proposed solutions, of which there are three from the 21st century. Gotthold Lessing's solution has been the most influential yet there is not a consensus.

References

Further reading